Sixers Deny Doc Rivers The Chance At A Fourth Straight Second-Round Loss
2:48 PM EDT on May 16, 2023
Two days after the 76ers spent their Sunday on a field trip to Boston to watch a basketball game, the organization has fired head coach Doc Rivers. He lasted three seasons in Philly, the shortest of his four stops, which had a lot to do with the fact that each of those three campaigns began with legitimate championship aspirations and ended in the second round.
Rivers had his team in prime position to finally get to the conference finals this season, stealing Games 1 and 5 in Boston. The Celtics were certainly the better team, but the Sixers played hard as hell, stayed committed to their defensive principles for the first 5.75 games of the series, and looked primed to win the series. Even after Jayson Tatum's heroics at the end of Game 6, the Sixers still had a chance to win in seven in Boston, but Joel Embiid and James Harden turned into pumpkins at the worst possible time. They let go and accepted a brutal blowout loss, allowing Tatum to call for the ball and make a point of breaking Steph Curry's Game 7 record with 51 points.
A top team can't let themselves get embarrassed like that, and while I think some blame for that should fall on Harden and Embiid for barely bothering to show up, firing the coach after the loss is rational as a culmination of three frustrating exits with Rivers at the helm. The Sixers were one of the three Eastern Conference heavies alongside Boston and Milwaukee, and yet they never reached the conference finals. In his first season in town, Rivers presided over the infamous final Ben Simmons Sixers team that lost to Trae Young and Kevin Huerter. The next season, they lost to the Heat in a second-round series highlighted by a 35-point Game 5 loss. Embiid was dealing with various injuries in each of these seasons, but the team as a whole turned soggy with two chances to beat the Celtics and advance.
Rivers has been around for a while, and he'll probably get another job, but his record of blowing leads in the playoffs is a truly staggering one. After Sunday's Game 7 loss, he is now 17-33 in games when his team already has three wins. There is some statistical noise here—again, the Embiid injuries—but Rivers has blown leads with the Celtics, Clippers, and Sixers. Eventually he becomes the common factor.
There are some enticing openings this offseason: The three teams with the best records over the past three seasons have all fired their coaches this year after failed playoff runs. Monty Williams, Mike Budenholzer, and Nick Nurse (to name a few possible candidates for the Sixers) are available. Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid will all have new coaches next year. Of the three title contenders with openings, the Sixers are perhaps the least appealing with the Harden situation and lack of cap space, but they also have the MVP. This is a crucial hire, and given how Embiid is a finite resource, they'll need to find someone who can handle the second round.
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